Independence Day July 4
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
You may be surprised to learn that the Fourth of July is actually a prescribed Feast Day in the Book of Common Prayer. And while Memorial and many other churches have long since taken the American Flag out of our sanctuary, it is true that the Episcopal Church has always found itself in an uncomfortable relationship between Church and State. The ‘National Cathedral’ is after all an Episcopal Cathedral and historically many/most of America’s political leaders have identified as Episcopalian. Even today a significant percentage of members of the House and Senate are Episcopalian. And while many might have thought it strange to see Bishop Eugene Sutton appear on Fox News with Tucker Carlson, others saw nothing more than the Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland discussing current events with a layperson from the Diocese of Virginia; something that has been commonplace in this country since it’s founding.
What should the role of the Church? Of the Episcopal Church? Of Memorial Church be on this day? Or in the celebration of any kind of ‘civic religion’ for that matter?
To begin with, as tempting as it may be to say that we should be totally separate and have nothing to do with government at all — we aren’t Anabaptists. We vote. We engage with our elected leaders. We hold them accountable. We pray for better leadership. We even encourage our members to put themselves up for office and for government positions to be a part of that change. So abandonment is not an option. Government is messy. And our current politics are terrible. But life is messy, and as followers of Christ we have a responsibility to wade into the mess and attempt to make it better.
Further, as Anglican/Episcopalians some of our best work is civic religion! Whether it is our Presiding Bishop preaching at the Royal Wedding or a State Funeral for a president, or even giving the invocaron at City Hall or Congress, we are pretty good at this stuff. This is why you like Downton Abbey so much, we do things ‘properly’. Making the Jesus story a digestible story for everyone that fits both the current moment and the timeless story of the church, without offending anyone else. I certainly wouldn’t trust anyone else to do that work.
But, we should be careful. We don’t worship the flag, we worship God. The President is not King, Jesus is. We are not guided primarily by the constitution or the US legal system but by the Holy Spirit. And this independence is very important for Christians. We are in the world but not of the world.
As Christians we are stewards of Gods creation, so then as American Christians perhaps we should consider ourselves Stewards of Freedom and Independence. Not just protecting our own freedoms, but also the freedoms of those who have struggle historically or currently with establishing or maintaining them. We should be as or more concerned with migrant children who have had their freedoms taken from them, with the millions of incarcerated men women and children in this country whose punishment may not fit the crime, and for those populations in particular whose freedoms have been stolen in order to enhance our own freedoms.
I recommend in particular reading this 4th of July Frederick Douglass’ reflection “What to the Slave is the 4th of July” https://www.thenation.com/article/what-slave-fourth-july-frederick-douglass/
And then consider what we can all do to light the torch of freedom for others and maintain independence for all in righteousness and peace.
But most of all, if you do love this country, if you celebrate unflinching the freedoms we should all enjoy, do not let one person, even a powerful one, rob you of that joy. Do not let the antics of our elected leaders rob you of your love of freedom, your love of this country, or your love and care for each other. I encourage you to celebrate freedom unabashedly tomorrow. The freedom to gather with friends, neighbors, to engage in friendly disagreement, to eat the food and drink of your choice, to worship the God of your choice, the freedom to love neighbor and stranger, to care for friend and foe, to tend to the prisoner and the foreigner, and to above all believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand - and that this freedom, this love, this joy is what will bring it about.